Let’s not have a return to the feudal age

Bernama pic.

 When religion is mixed with politics, it ends up becoming a political ideology. Religion will slowly but surely become tangential. PAS, for example, keeps saying that the party is struggling for Islam. However, at times the masses only observe a stretch of vengeance in its speeches to the grassroots and its political adversaries.

PAS’ speeches are often stained with unceasing issues relating to “punishment” to scare the people into submitting to its political ideology and social norms. It’s this baser instinct, or thrill of sorts, that has subverted the minds of many PAS leaders.

In spirit, the aberrant drift in this context is irreligious. It is not going to reflect a good image of Islam (the word deriving from the Arabic root “Salema” which means peace and purity) if the party represents Islam at all – what more if PAS wants to help attract non-Muslims to the beauty of Islam. Unfortunately, PAS today faces a daunting task to impress the minds of the educated and thinking assemblies in our society.

With a lack of worldly and down-to-earth non-spiritual ideas to reform the mindset of Muslims in the 21st century, some PAS leaders are making Islam out to be a very antiquated and constricted religion or way of life that centres on retribution, punishment and castigation – nothing more than this – the relevance of which has become passé and is more fitting for the seventh century populace.

Nonetheless, it pays for a political party like PAS that harps on religion to accomplish its goal among the rural populace – that is, by subjugating their minds and in the process seeking political power. Its mawkish approach to Islam with all its facades and codes of indoctrination can easily convince the naive-minded Muslim populace. This, unfortunately, has rendered religion as no longer a solemn entity but a cult-like tool for politicians to exploit.

An inconsequential aspect of Islam

The Quran is a guidebook for Muslims, just like people of other religions having their own guidebooks. The Quran as a guidebook contains many doctrines that are of universal relevance to the human race.

Why must PAS then narrow down its political melee by converging only on the issue of punishment but not counselling and rehabilitation when they deal with human flaws and weaknesses? Hudud (from the singular form of the word hadd – the literal meaning of which is limit, or restriction) has always been the in-thing among PAS leaders. They look less into the bigger picture of Islam as “rahmatan lil ‘alamin” (mercy to the worlds).

Confined to only an inconsequential aspect of Islam, they are sinking in the sea of mucky sentiments and irrational thinking of the feudal age. They are in truth seeking a quick way to achieve their jaundiced approach to politics by using religion as a tool, without realising that they are tarnishing the image of the religion by doing so.

In their guidebook, the Quran, the term hadd is mentioned at least 14 times but nothing in the verses specifically mention punishment in its rigid form as some PAS leaders and Muslim clerics have defined the term. Some clerics – local and foreign – have indeed resorted to fuzzy extra-Quranic narratives to extrapolate the term and give it a harsh and rigid interpretation.

The word hadd denotes a restriction or limit to whatever we do as human beings. In other words, as God-fearing cohorts we should not transgress this limit. Literally, this makes the Quranic verses in which the word hadd is found depict that in our actions in life, we should not sidle or slink beyond what has been designed or ordained for us so as to not cause disorder, snags and hitches or harm through transgression. This precept is indeed more acceptable to thinking Muslims who cherish sensibleness in society.

Hudud often interpolated with nuances

The Quranic verses as a guide have been revealed in a very “stretchy” manner for mankind to use their intuition or discretion when imposing any form of punishment on transgressors. But the principal motive here is for “preventive” purposes and if they need to be admonished, it should be rehabilitative in nature and done with compassion.

Hudud is often interpolated with nuances by some clerics to signify stoning to death or cutting off hands for thievery – a practice perhaps more acceptable in the feudal age. In the present, with many scholars against the decrees, these are rarely applied in many Muslim countries. They now observe the stringency of past decrees as more “preventive” in nature and not as punishment per se.

Moreover, many modern-day Islamic scholars have called for a moratorium on this form of punishment as there are still reservations among them as to their applicability in the present world.

Likewise, scholars have the opinions that hudud offences must be overturned by the slightest of doubts (alshshukuk). In Islam besides hudud, the shariah also has other forms of admonishment – Qisas (retributive justice) and Tazir (a reprimand left to an Islamic judge’s discretion) – which should also be annealed with fairness and mercy.

Regrettably, there is a gulf of interpretations the world over on the forms of punishment that should be meted out to transgressors. The Muslim world sees no uniformity on this – the zealous among them emphasising the extreme and the moderates among them adopting leniency. Often, this non-uniformity is not mitigated with rational thinking and leads to conflict and confusion, to the extent that it has affected the image and fabric of the Muslim society.

Mercy of fundamental concern in Islam

Islam, as a religion to guide the Muslims, is always mitigated with mercy and compassion but this is seldom stressed in sermons and discourses by some PAS politicians who claim to represent the religion.

“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful” (The phrase in Arabic is “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” recited at the beginning of each subsequent surah or chapter of the Quran except for the 9th surah (Surah at-Tawbah).

“And My mercy encompasses everything.” (Quran 7:156)

“We have not sent you except as a mercy to the world.” (Quran 21:107)

“Then he was among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to mercy.” (Quran 90:17)

These verses, among many more in the Quran, highlight the fact that mercy is of fundamental concern in Islam. PAS politicians have long been in a state of confusion and misperception as Islam in reality is revealed to mankind with this basic but vital message: rahmatan lil ‘alamin – Islam as a religion of peace and mercy to all mankind and creation.

Harsh and outdated feudal edicts

As mentioned, the implementation of shariah laws has never been consistent across the Muslim world. Yet, some zealots in PAS went all out to make a mountain out of a mole hill by giving too much prominence to edge through harsh feudal edicts such as the contentious RUU 355 (the proposed changes to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355) that sought to enhance Shariah Court punishments to 30 years’ imprisonment and RM100,000 fine. These punishments and figures are not found in the Quran or in any Islamic legal literature or precedence.

Instead of giving prominence to humanity and the general welfare of the ummah (the people), some PAS leaders are giving too much importance to punishments to sway the minds of the general public to accept PAS as a political party. This, without a shred of doubt, is failing PAS.

PAS is seen to be gradually fading from the Malaysian political landscape and is fast becoming irrelevant to thinking Muslims and Malaysians in general. With a new government helming the nation now, harsh and outdated feudal edicts such RUU 355 (perhaps the first step to PAS’ version of hudud) which was earnestly championed by PAS before the 14th general election, have to be trodden out with thoughtfulness so as not to obscure the minds of innocent Muslims. No progressive and thinking Muslim would want to return to the feudal age.

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.